Nadal stays on the fast track

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PARIS (AP) — Friend or foe, mentor or up-and-comer, Rafael Nadal treats everyone on the other side of the net at the French Open with the same amount of courtesy.

He beats them, soundly and quickly.

Carlos Moya, Nadal’s pal and the 1998 champion at Roland Garros, was the 19th opponent for the kid with the clamdiggers at the clay-court Grand Slam — and the 19th to lose. Nadal overwhelmed Moya 6-4, 6-3, 6-0 yesterday in the quarterfinals to close in on a third consecutive French Open title.

Was that any way to treat a guy who took Nadal under his wing because both are from the island of Mallorca? A guy Nadal practices tennis with, plays video games with, hangs out with?

“Not very nice?” Nadal said, repeating the question. “No. Yes. No. … I was just trying my best.”

His best is as good as it gets on clay, and he has yet to drop a set in the tournament. Nadal won 16 of the 24 points that lasted at least 10 strokes against Moya and dominated down the stretch, taking the last eight games.

“It’s a little bit painful when you lose a set 6-0,” the 23rd-seeded Moya said. “It felt very uncomfortable, and I couldn’t do much about it.”

Nadal improved to 32-0 in best-of-five-sets matches on clay. Next up is No. 6 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who eliminated Igor Andreev of Russia 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to get to his first Grand Slam semifinal.

Djokovic knows what to expect tomorrow: He quit with a back injury after losing the first two sets against Nadal in last year’s French Open quarterfinals.

“He’s the best player in the world on this surface,” Djokovic said. “He plays with a lot of motivation and confidence. Physically he’s very ready.”

Moya’s no slouch, either. He led all active players with 15 titles on red clay — until Nadal won two this year to get to 16. Moya also reached the 1997 Australian Open final and the 1998 U.S. Open semifinals and was briefly ranked No. 1 in 1999, the first Spaniard to claim the top spot.

Some think Nadal, who turned 21 on Sunday, could get there, too, one day, although there’s a certain someone standing in the way at the moment: Roger Federer, who’ll play No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia in the semifinals.

The No. 1-ranked Federer has won 10 of the last 15 majors and is bidding to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to claim four consecutive Grand Slam titles. The French Open is the only major Federer hasn’t won; he lost to Nadal in the final last year and the semifinals in 2005.

“Four play in the semifinals and four have chances for the title, no? I don’t think about Roger,” said Nadal, whose record 81-match winning streak on clay was ended by Federer at last month’s Hamburg Masters. “I know Roger is the best in the world, and Roger beat me last time, so in my opinion, he’s the favorite for the tournament.”

In the women’s semifinals today, top-seeded Justine Henin plays No. 4 Jelena Jankovic, and No. 2 Maria Sharapova faces No. 7 Ana Ivanovic. Jankovic, Ivanovic and Djokovic give Serbia three semifinalists at a major for the first time.

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